Embark photo — Joe Hackett
Few activities serve to bond a family faster than the long-held tradition of a father-and-son fishing trip. Increasingly, there has been a need for similar adventures with mothers and daughters.
 
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Summer is the most fleeting of all Adirondack seasons. It typically arrives late and departs early, yet memories of the season can last a lifetime. Adirondack summers have staying power.

Adirondack summers have provided generations of travelers with recess from their ordinary existence. It is a season that serves to reunite friends and families. It restores our enthusiasm for living in such close proximity to the natural world.

Due to the brevity of the season, plans must be made and efforts extended to ensure the summer season is utilized to its full potential.

For more than 30 years, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to introduce numerous travelers to Adirondack summers; however, my greatest pleasures have always come while introducing my own children to the joys of the season. The adventures allow me to be a kid again. In the process, we share our commonalities and develop lifelong memories.

In recent years, a disturbing trend has encroached on the ability of children to enjoy such opportunities. Labeled “nature deficit disorder” by Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods,” the affliction has affected an entire generation of children.

The book chronicles a growing chasm between America’s youngsters and nature. For untold generations, children and nature have been inextricably linked. Children experienced the natural environment through their daily lives as a part of their outdoor chores and outdoor play.

Around the globe, people are migrating from rural to urban areas, and the number of people living in cities is growing twice as fast as total population growth. In fact, the majority of the world’s people now live in cities.

It is no wonder that outdoor activities among children are declining. The current electronically addicted generation spends more time listening to iPods, texting on cell phones or playing with Xboxes than they do outdoors.

The statistics are startling. Thirty years ago, the average kid spent four to five hours a day playing in the outdoors and double this on weekends (36 to 45 hours a week total). Today’s children spend nearly 37 hours a week staring at the screen of a television, computer, cell phone or gaming device. It has become a wired generation that escapes to a virtual world.

Consider that visits to national and state parks have fallen off by as much as 25 percent over the last decade and a recent study found that more children knew the characters of Pokemon (an electronic game) than could recognize an oak tree or an otter.

A recent story detailed the decision by the publisher of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to replace dozens of nature-related words like “beaver” and “dandelion” with “blog” and “MP3 player.”

The summer season provides parents with numerous opportunities to disrupt this disconnect. I believe that the best way to detox an Xbox addict is to put a fly rod or a canoe paddle in his or her hand. There is no reason to have a child spend an Adirondack summer in a virtual world. It just wouldn’t be fair.

School’s out for summer: What is there to do?

Across the country, there are a growing number of movements forming with the purpose to familiarize children with the wonders of nature and the outdoors.

Some are grassroots efforts like the No Child Left Inside campaign and the Children and Nature Network, while others such as the National Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program are hosted by government entities.

In the Adirondacks, numerous organizations offer similar opportunities. These range from the state Adirondack Park Agency’s Visitor Interpretive Centers in Paul Smiths and Newcomb to the Adirondack Mountain Club’s skill courses.

I’m often asked what is the best age to introduce children to outdoor recreation. My standard advice is, “As soon as it is comfortable for both you and your kid!”

Be certain to make outings enjoyable for everyone involved, and leave them wanting more. Comfortable is the key word.

Kids are high energy, but they can be entertained easily with a minimum of equipment and minimal instruction if the main focus is fun for everyone involved. I have discovered a number of activities that meet these requirements.

Children need excitement, action, competition and activities that allow them an opportunity to participate on equal footing with adults. Hiking the High Peaks doesn’t fall into this category for most toddlers, but it’s a great option for teens. Likewise, forest-discovery activities such as a salamander hunt might be great for small children but boring for a teenager. Choose activities that generate their enthusiasm for getting outdoors.

I advise parents to seek activities that allow all participants to share equally in the experience. Find the appropriate mix, and everyone will have fun. Remember, kids are slower, weaker and have less endurance than most adults. They don’t like to spend the day chasing after their parents.

Biking is a good choice. It is a great equalizer, since kids are usually as competent as their parents. So is kayaking, as even the very young can participate if a tandem boat is used.

Another wonderful local option is bouldering. With just a pair of climbing shoes, a safety pad and some chalk, kids and adults can find endless, safe entertainment scaling smaller rock faces without the need for ropes and anchors. It’s another opportunity in which kids may have an edge.

Angling can provide a similar shared experience if it is reduced to an age-appropriate level. Although I have been fly fishing with children as young as 7, most youngsters lack the coordination, patience and attention span to pursue the sport.

However, when a child has a rod and reel that are simple to operate and an attentive panfish population, the experience can be shared equally.

Children also possess an innate need to discover. They always want to know what’s over the next hill, under the nearest log or buried in the mud. As they learn about nature, they discover themselves. Tapping into this obvious obsession opens them up to a new world of natural possibilities. Nature-based activities range from collecting butterflies and dragonflies (both of which can be cooled in the fridge to be digitally scanned and later released) to photographing birds, recording natural sounds and looking for animal tracks.

Activities that permit children and adults to compete on par, whether climbing a tree or catching a frog, will always provide more entertainment than chasing a parent up a steep trail.

The dos and don’ts of kids in the woods

Remember that kids have short attention spans and mostly just want to have fun. Pay attention to the weather, and don’t attempt outings in cold or miserable conditions.

Dress them accordingly, and keep lessons or lectures to a minimum. Always be certain to have a goal in mind, but don’t be afraid to turn back if they need to.

Have a reward: a cookie, candy or trinket. Make it entertaining and exciting for them, and always quit before they are bored.

The best method to ensure their future involvement is to leave them wanting more. Keep in mind that whatever the activity, it needs to be for their satisfaction, not yours!

Children seem to learn skills more easily when they have someone of their own age and ability along. Have them invite a friend. Remember, there are some things to which adults just can’t relate.

Positive reinforcements always bring better results than negatives; be certain to encourage rather than criticize. Use words like “fun” and “exciting” rather than “learned” and “studied.” Lead by example; just go at a slower pace.

As children progress in size, skills, endurance and enthusiasm, parents can graduate from backyard adventures to local outings.

When children of the Adirondacks attain the skills necessary to enjoy the local environment, their opportunities for positive recreational experiences are virtually unlimited.